Music

Wiley: Playtime is Over

Dan Raper

We know by now Wiley can produce and star in a pretty slick-sounding grime record. But where's the heart?


Wiley

Playtime Is Over

Label: Big Dada
US Release Date: 2007-09-18
UK Release Date: 2007-06-04
Amazon
iTunes

Let's compare Wiley's album with Dizzee Rascal's from earlier this year. Both are the artists' third solo albums. Both aim (again) to break grime out of the increasingly small niche it occupies in the hip-hop consuming public's mind. Along with Kano's London Town, together they represent the most coherent exposition of grime's now mature, multi-faceted sound for the American market. No surprise, but there's nothing about-to-blow-up about this. More than ever, grime's sense of disappointment at the seemingly insurmountable barriers to conventional success is becoming palpable. When Dizzee declares, "There's a world outside of the hood... There has to be more than this, man," on the opening of Maths and English, it's meant as an introduction to expansion.

But it's increasingly clear that grime's garage beats and aggressively ugly vocal affectations just don't resonate with those who enjoy hip-hop, but won't invest the time to understand music that's in any way uncompromising. This is a shame, because –- as many critics have noted over the years -– this cadre of rappers has real skill, comparable to the most prominent MCs in America. The broken glass production of Dizzee's "U Can't Tell Me Nuffin'" knocks Kanye's similarly-named single out of the water; one of the most uncompromising, brilliant rap singles this year. Kano's "London Town" -- though it doesn't compare to the best of his 2005 stunner, Home Sweet Home -- is still a dark, propulsive (yet catchy) single that would fly on most progressive dancefloors. So, in the midst of all this uncelebrated brilliance, where does Wiley fit in?

The grandfather of grime, Wiley founded Roll Deep. But if we were to judge purely on "The Avenue" we'd miss a heap: underground club nights, community radio shows, his own labels come and gone. Yes, there's the mentorship and subsequent beef with Dizzee, still somehow cynically fueled on Playtime is Over, the otherwise calmly competent "Letter 2 Dizzee". But if there was to be one cornerstone of those artists who appeared on the Run the Road comps, it's Wiley. He knows it, but strangely, over the course of his three albums, the 27-year-old rapper has felt the need to assert and re-assert himself of this fact. Almost as if he's harbouring a strange sort of insecurity. Playtime is Over is full of those familiar hip-hop boasts, you know, "I'm better than Hova"; I'm destined for greatness, great wealth, bringing platinum plaques back to the projects. Ever heard the tune before?

As might be expected, Wiley's best when he forgets the posturing and just has fun. In the furor over his lyrics it's easy to forget that he's also an accomplished producer, and though he does stay firmly within the now-familiar genre limits of grime, he's still easily able to bring fresh sounds with almost each song. "50/50", the album's opener, is classic Wiley: aggressive but inventive, undeniably street, but still clever with words. His delivery's still somewhere between Kano and Dizzee –- always understandable, but true to the intonations and vocabulary of his native Bow, London streets.

On his song to his daughter, "Baby Girl", Wiley's attitude is harder to understand. An imagining of the baby's future as a producer/MC, herself, he dismisses all other options –- vet, nurse –- with an absolute conviction that the only route to success is through producing music. "Letter 2 Dizzee" actually shows some insight/nostalgia on this issue, reasoning that even if they haven't achieved the level of success they dreamed of, "think of all the raves that we did, all the shows we did, all the radio / We made up a lot of ground". Elsewhere, "Slippin" pings, but doesn’t have the edge of a Dizzee song that it resembles. We already know Wiley's promises to disappear, make cash, return to the game different have slipped –- his "retirement" about the same length as the rest of our annual vacation.

Playtime Is Over, despite its title, ultimately paints Wiley as something of a big kid. The more mature, balanced outlook that pops up on "Letter 2 Dizzee", and a few other tracks, is a true emotion that could have propelled the album to something truly memorable. As it stands, though, Wiley's third album is less inspired sign-off than something of an empty accomplishment. Sure, he's got the production chops to produce a slick, classically grimey album. But where's the heart?

5

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

Next Page

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

Acid house legends 808 State bring a psychedelic vibe to Berlin producer NHOAH's stunning track "Abstellgleis".

Berlin producer NHOAH's "Abstellgleis" is a lean and slinky song from his album West-Berlin in which he reduced his working instruments down to a modular synthesizer system with a few controllers and a computer. "Abstellgleis" works primarily with circular patterns that establish a trancey mood and gently grow and expand as the piece proceeds. It creates a great deal of movement and energy.

Keep reading... Show less

Beechwood offers up a breezy slice of sweet pop in "Heroin Honey" from the upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod.

At just under two minutes, Beechwood's "Heroin Honey" is a breezy slice of sweet pop that recalls the best moments of the Zombies and Beach Boys, adding elements of garage and light tinges of the psychedelic. The song is one of 10 (11 if you count a bonus CD cut) tracks on the group's upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod out 26 January via Alive Natural Sound Records.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image